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Friday, January 07, 2005

US : More Dynastic Than Dynamic!!

The Economist, writes, the US society is increasingly looking like a "higher society, ever harder to ascend" and increasingly looking like imperialistic britain,with dynastic ties proliferating, social circles interlocking, mechanisms of social exclusion strengthening and a gap widening between the people who make the decisions and shape the culture and the vast majority of ordinary working stiffs. Excerpts with edits and my comments added:

The United States likes to think of itself as the very embodiment of meritocracy: a country where people are judged on their individual abilities rather than their family connections. From the outset, Americans believed that equality of opportunity gave them an edge over the Old World, freeing them from debilitating snobberies and at the same time enabling everyone to benefit from the abilities of the entire population. They still do. America has repeatedly succeeded in living up to its best self, and today most Americans believe that their country still does a reasonable job of providing opportunities for everybody, including blacks and women. In Europe, majorities of people in every country except Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia believe that forces beyond their personal control determine their success. In America only 32% take such a fatalistic view.
A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society. The past couple of decades have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, argues that between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%—and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth. Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack.
Most Americans see nothing wrong with inequality of income so long as it comes with plenty of social mobility: it is simply the price paid for a dynamic economy. But the new rise in inequality does not seem to have come with a commensurate rise in mobility. There may even have been a fall. Everywhere you look in modern America— apart from politics, in the Hollywood Hills or the canyons of Wall Street, in the Nashville recording studios or the clapboard houses —you see elites mastering the art of perpetuating themselves. America is increasingly looking like imperial Britain, with dynastic ties proliferating, social circles interlocking, mechanisms of social exclusion strengthening and a gap widening between the people who make the decisions and shape the culture and the vast majority of ordinary working stiffs.In his classic “The Promise of American Life”, Herbert Croly noted that “a democracy, not less than a monarchy or an aristocracy, must recognise political, economic, and social distinctions, but it must also withdraw its consent whenever these discriminations show any tendency to excessive endurance.” So far Americans have been fairly tolerant of economic distinctions. But that tolerance may not last for ever, if the current trend towards “excessive endurance” is not reversed.

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